Review: Treacle Toffee World

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RPM Retrodisc

When I was a more impressionable youth, I once bought an album called Psychadelic (sic) Smashes from Woolworth, which turned out to be a collection of singles released by Immediate Records – not especially psychedelic unless your acid trips sound like PP Arnold singing Angel of the Morning. It seems that for some people, anything released between 1967 and the end of the decade has to be sold as being a mash up of Syd Barrett and the Grateful Dead.

I mention this because if you take Treacle Toffee World at face value and focus on the ‘psych’ rather than the ‘pop’, then you will probably be disappointed. And that would be a bad thing, because while this is not , on the whole, a hallucinogenic spectacular, it is a fine collection of rather obscure pop music that you probably haven’t heard before with no less than twelve previously unreleased tracks from the vaults.

Culled from the world of Apple Music Publishing, this is mostly obscure acts who came and went within a few singles – only Gallagher and Lyle would have a career lasting into the 1970s. But that’s not a criticism – some of the best pop music has come from acts who never quite made it – at least not in these incarnations, though some of these bands would spawn the likes of Badfinger and The Strawbs in the next decade.

The album opens with the frankly fantastic Father’s Name is Dad by Fire – “my father’s name is Dad / My mother’s name was Mum”, as this bouncy, very late Sixties number goes. Now, this is pop psych at its best, driving and hook-laden, but definitely odd. Fire get a few tunes on this album, and they are certainly the most consistently excellent act here. Spare a Copper is a little more conventional late Sixties pop – it’s reminiscent of the Small Faces. Treacle Toffee World is an oddball number with slightly off-kilter verses and a sweetly infectious chorus, it doesn’t quite deliver the pop catchiness required. The final Fire track, Will I Find Love, is a heavier, bluesy number that seems to belong to that era where the hippy drippy dreams of the psych scene were giving way to hard rock.

Sands also channel the influences of illicit substances on Listen to the Sky, which certainly deserves to be up there with Pink Floyd’s Point Me at the Sky in any list of ‘late Sixties pop songs about the sky’ and halfway through the 4 minutes song goes from being a chirpy little number to end with a bizarrely apocalyptic section with sirens, heavy guitar destruction and a riff on Mars Bringer of War. No wonder it wasn’t a hit!

Grapefruit’s Trying to Make it to Monday is somewhat less impressive, being a rather meandering effort with strained vocals. They also deliver Fall of the Castle, which might have made a decent album filler for someone like Gene Pitney, with its soaring vocals and odd country tilt. This is the first time either track has been released. Also previously unheard is an alternative cut of This Little Man, which sounds like a collision of The Animals’ House of the Rising Sun and Lee Hazelwood – though probably not quite as good as that suggests.

Similarly unreleased was Rawlings and Huckstep’s Forgive and Forget, another rather limp number, heavy on vocal harmonies and with enough pop hooks to suggest that it could’ve been a contender with a better performance / production. The same duo bring us Even the Sun Shines Cold, which has a Left Banke feel with its heavy harmonising, but is unfortunately rather roughly recorded. Thinking Pictures sounds a lot better thankfully and has a lovely pastoral feel that is demanding to be fleshed out. The same could be said of Gallagher and Lyle’s Goodbye Mozart, which is a minimal demo version that is a little too rough to really work.

Iveys’ Bittersweet Adieu is, unfortunately, rather dull – it’s previously unreleased status rather deserved I’m afraid. How Does It Feel is better, and comes complete with some wild guitar, but again sounds rather too muddy. This, I fear, is the curse of tracks having sat on a shelf for over 40 years.

Denis Couldry’s Tea and Toast Mr Watson delivers the sort of English nostalgic whimsy so popular at the time, certainly channelling Syd Barrett in parts, with references to “purple haze” and a wild psychedelic guitar soloing inappropriately away courtesy of Chris Spedding. It’s rather fantastic. The twee Englishness continues on Penny for the Wind, which is full of references to villages, daffodils, balloons, singing children and “Jolly Jimmy”. It’s an inch away from becoming a novelty comedy song – as a surprising number of Sixties pop songs were – but just about gets away with it.

More wackiness can be found in Legay’s Fantastic Story of the Steam Driven Banana. It’s quite entertaining, if slight and probably doesn’t have sufficient infectiousness to be a classic, but fans of oddball British pop will be glad to hear it.

23rd Turnoff seem to be trying to sound like their publishers, with a distinct John Lennon twang on Another Vincent Van Gogh that is let down by a cumbersome chorus and poor (demo) production. It’s possibly the weakest number on here.

So, like any such compilation, Treacle Toffee World is a mixed bag. But there’s definitely more good than bad – nothing is awful and much if it is truly excellent. Worth it for the tracks by Fire and Denis Couldry alone, and with extensive sleeve notes giving the history of the acts and Apple Publishing, this is one sugary treat it’s worth indulging in.

DAVID FLINT

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